Building a guitar

If you are thinking of building a guitar at home then “back woods” guitar maker Marten Ten Broek offers inspiring advice regarding the genesis and methods with which he builds instruments.

Recycled D.I.Y home built Guitar Blues

His guitars and instruments use recycled timber and found woods and while they embody a rugged simplicity they possess a unique personality, playability and good tone. Marten has used them on his recordings.
For PART ONE of the interview click here.


RSG: Marten, yesterday we talked about where you find and how you begin to assemble your guitars and instruments. How do you get around problems when you’re actually building an instrument, it looks as though you ignore the “rule book”?

Being a Liberian born animist, I believe in the soul of my work being tied to the materials used and crafted for the specific work. I make truth, and I believe in an honest approach to materials. I am a believer in using the materials you have at hand, to do the right job within your current skill set and budget – “the rules” and conventional thinking do not foster this philosophy.

RSG: Your six string guitar body follows the cigar box blueprint, but with larger dimensions – why?

With a scarcity of available tuition/guidance/luthier apprenticeships going, I had real problems bending wood. I’m working on solutions now, as I am constructing a violin in anticipation of building a cello – both are virtually impossible to locate as left handed instruments without spending plenty of money. Most of the problems I encounter become interesting paths to creativity itself, and I can actually work them into my instruments.

RSG: And therefore every guitar or instrument requires a unique approach because of the materials found and selected?

My creative mission is to build only one-off, unique intruments. It would be impossible for me to build one guitar or instrument as an absolute facsimile of another. I won’t ever replicate something anyone else has made because those things already exist. I found that this philosophy really freed me when it came to making instruments – ignore the rules.

RSG: And you are acutally forced to work and think within the limits of your tools and materials

Once upon a time, people hewed logs with adzes until they discovered the art of sawing planks and shaping – they were able to create, but were always governed by the tools & technology available. With the production of instruments en masse, tools were found to use wood economically, to lower cost per unit. Don’t get me wrong- it is indeed wise to use things sparingly – but for me, bending wood with heat and steam – without wrecking my supplies – is not possible right now – so I am building simple ‘dugout’ guitars.

RSG: So, selecting a simple geometry for the instrument body is a key step in building a first guitar or instrument?

Of course, although I think there are a great many advantages to this method. Limitations to do with shape are easily overcome. Because I do not need to use thin, heavily curved laminates – to create strength – I do not have to offset the tension created by the load of the strings. Rougher more immediate methods may be used – less exacting, more gestural. With backs and fronts, I believe I have made headway in terms of my ‘holid’ body construction. I have developed a way of routing [carving] my bracing patterns [internal supports] from thicker pieces of wood, to eliminate glue joins.




RSG: So you “sculpt” the guitar body from solid pieces of timber?

Yeah, I call it “holid” – my term for hollowed out solid. If possible, i work out of one piece, or I laminate the thickest pieces together horizontally – the most mass with the least layers of glue possible. I try to alternate the grain in the hope that the wood holds itself more stable. So far, it has been successful, apart from a mahogany top. I forced curvature onto laminated strips in the gluing stage using sash clamps and it exploded when i took it to a joinery to feed through a thicknesser. Lesson number one – things are more stable if you make a thicker laminate than required and reduce it to thickness without fighting.

RSG: You mentioned that the top, the soundboard has become a central focus for your guitar and instrument builds – why, and how?

Yes, the top is basically where it is at. I forget who made a guitar with a decent top and a papier mache back and sides to prove this, but basically, the back and sides are only there to make a chamber.Tthe less glue, the better and so far I haven’t used a drop of hide glue. a grunty version of P.V.A. has been adequate, and indeed it is very strong – provided you dont soak your instrument in water!


For part three of our interview click here.